Xinqiwu, Liuyue 25, 291 ASC
Friday, June 25, 2410
Asami Sato Girls' Academy
Sakuragaoka, United Republic

"OK, provisional members," said Ritsu cheerfully while Mugi cleared away the tea things. "Time for a little orientation. Miss Akiyama, the dossier, if you please."

"What am I now, your secretary?" Mio muttered as she opened the club's photo album and placed it on the table in front of Ritsu, but turned so that would be upside-down from the president's seat. On the other side of the table, Ui, Jun, and Nodoka crowded together to get a better look.

"As you will have seen on your tickets," Ritsu told them, "the band we're all going to see tonight is called 'Death Devil'. Its four members are all alumnae, not only of this school, but of our very own Light Music Club."

"Uh... we know that, senpai," said Jun, giving Ritsu a slightly skeptical look.

Ignoring the younger student's interruption with a faintly magnificent aplomb, Ritsu tapped a finger against the photo album page on the observers' left, which had four mid-size photos arranged in a grid upon it. Each was a head-and-shoulders portrait of a young woman dressed and made up in a more or less timeless hard-rock style, such that it was hard to tell just how old the pictures were.

"Sawako Yamanaka," said Ritsu, indicating the girl at the viewers' top left. "Codename: Catherine. Lead guitarist, lead vocalist. Until recently, she was a teacher at this school and the Light Music Club's faculty advisor. She's also a talented seamstress, but her taste is..."

"Questionable," Mio supplied dryly.

Ritsu nodded. "Moving on: Norimi Kawaguchi, codename Christina. By all accounts, not so much the band's rhythm guitarist as another lead guitarist. Apparently they're very lucky in Death Devil in that they have two visionaries," she added wryly, making Azusa stifle a giggle. "I'm not actually sure what these two's real names are," she went on, indicating the other two pics. "This one's codename is Della, she's on bass, and this is the drummer, codename Jane."

"What's with the big-universe codenames?" Jun wondered.

Ritsu shrugged. "Apparently it was a thing they did in the Light Music Club back in those days," she said. She considered the blank space on the facing page, where, if the empty corner tabs were any guide, one larger photo had been mounted. "I'm not sure what happened to the pic of them all together that used to be over here, but anyway. They're a speed-metal band. Went through kind of a weird phase their junior year, but their later work was a little less crazy. I assume what we'll be hearing tonight is more like that." She frowned, looking around. "What the heck is keeping Yui?"

As if summoned by her name, Yui popped through the door at almost that exact moment, brandishing a shopping bag and declaring, "We're back!"

"Where did you go, Yui-chan?" Mugi wondered.

"Rin-chan found a place down by the music store that does custom T-shirts!" said Yui cheerfully as she trotted across the room, followed closely by Azalynn. When she reached the others, Yui upended her shopping bag, spilling its contents across the table: black T-shirts, each folded into a little bundle. Mugi picked one up and held it by the shoulders, letting it unfold, to reveal that it was emblazoned with Death Devil's heavily stylized Standard logotype.

"Oh wow!" said Ui, picking one up herself. She turned it around to examine the logo. On the back, in fairly basic plain text, it said

COMEBACK SHOW
06 . 25 . 291
SAKURAGAOKA

"Where'd you get their logo?" Azusa wondered.

"I found this in the album!" Yui replied, and with a grin, she flourished the missing photo - which, in addition to the four band members, featured their giant, hand-painted stage sign, on which the same stylized logo was emblazoned in letters a foot and a half high.

"That's where that went," said Ritsu, taking back the photo. "Nice thought, by the way," she added with a wink for Azalynn. "I don't think they ever had merch back in the day, so these are probably the only Death Devil shirts around! They'll be able to spot us in the crowd for sure."

"One hundred percent Yui's idea!" Azalynn said, grinning, and everyone applauded.

"Oh gosh, thanks," said Yui, blushing, with a sheepish smile and a V-sign. "You're too kind."

"I got them for the rest of the Art too," Azalynn added, holding up her own bag. "Speaking of which, I'd better get home and distribute them."

"Right!" Ritsu got to her feet, stuffing her own Death Devil T-shirt into her schoolbag. "The rest of you, get home and change out of your uniforms. We'll meet at 5:30 at the address on your tickets. Any questions?"

"No ma'am!" said Mugi with an enthusiastic salute.

"Dismissed!" Ritsu declared. "Mio, I'll pick you up at twenty past."

"What?" said Mio warily.


I have a message from another time...

Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
presents

Undocumented Features Future Imperfect
The Order of the Rose: A Duelist Opera

The Federation Lives Forever!

by Benjamin D. Hutchins
with Matt Wagner

© 2014 Eyrie Productions, Unlimited

Chapter Eight
"Comeback of the Year"


True to her word, Ritsu turned up chez Akiyama at 5:20 on the dot, beeping the horn of her scooter cheerfully. There was a slightly-too-long pause, after which Mio came hesitantly outside. She was dressed - as Ritsu had expected - pretty conservatively, in just regular jeans and sneakers with her new Death Devil shirt on top, and at the sight of her ride, she blanched slightly.

"You're not serious," she said.

"C'mon, Mio, it's perfectly safe," Ritsu assured her. "I mean it can only go 65 miles an hour."

"That's about 64 faster than I want anything you're driving to go while I'm on it!" Mio rejoined.

Ritsu rolled her eyes. "Oh, come on, give me a little credit. Even if I didn't care what happens to you, and I do, I don't wanna get hurt either, y'know. Besides, if I wrecked it, my uncle would be devastated. I wouldn't do that to him." She indicated a black skullcap helmet, similar in style to her yellow one, fixed by its strap to the cargo rack behind the seat. "Now put that on and let's go already, we're gonna be late."

Mio gave her a deeply dubious look, but picked up the helmet, puzzled out its retention system, and put it on, then climbed tentatively onto the back of the seat behind Ritsu. There was just room on the floorboards for her feet.

"Hang onto me if you wanna," said Ritsu, and then, in a slightly stifled voice, "not that tight though i do still require air"

They started off, and - again, as Ritsu had expected - Mio was as stiff as a board on the pillion, which wasn't making her own job any easier. She put up with it for a couple of extremely trying corners, then turned her head slightly and remarked,

"Mio, I don't want to seem overly critical here, but if we crash right now it's gonna be because you're not letting me steer."

"I feel like we're going to fall over!" Mio objected.

"We're not, though, that's how you turn corners on a bike. Just relax, OK? We're not gonna die. I promise. People do this every day." She brought the scooter to a halt, then added cheerfully, "See? I even stopped at the red light, just like a normal person."

".. You promise we won't die?" said Mio quietly.

"I'd give you a pinky on it, but I'm driving," Ritsu replied with a wry little smile. She didn't have time or space to turn around and look, but she would have bet she knew the expression that was on Mio's face now. The power of cute compels you! she thought, then applied the throttle and pulled away from the now-green signal.

By the time they reached the Livehouse, Mio had started to relax a bit; if she wasn't helping with the cornering yet, she was at least not hindering it any more, and her arms around Ritsu's waist were no longer locked in a rigid death grip. Given another few minutes, Ritsu suspected she might even have started enjoying it. She wasn't pale or shaky as she climbed off, anyway.

"Mio-chan! You're so lucky!" Yui declared, jumping up and down. "You got to ride with Ritchan first!"

"I guess that stands to reason, though," Azusa deadpanned, causing Jun to snicker and punch her in the shoulder.

Ritsu seemed not to notice as she knelt to chain her scooter to the lamppost. Then, straightening, she dusted at the knees of her tights and took Mio's helmet back from her, securing it along with her own on the cargo rack.

"So!" she declared. "Are we all here? Mio, Mugi, Yui, Azusa, Jun-chan, oh great spirits there's two of Yui," she said, tracing a finger down the row.

"That's Ui-chan," Mugi told her cheerfully.

"I've never seen her with her hair down before," Ritsu observed. "That's terrifying." Then, as Ui blushed a bit bashfully, Ritsu added, "Where's Nodoka?"

Yui pointed across the street. "Here she comes!" Waving with both hands, she called, "Nodoka-chan! Over here!"

The others turned to look, and Ritsu's jaw was not the only one to drop. Apart from Mio, they'd all made at least a little bit of an effort to rock their looks up a little; the Hirasawa sisters were sporting a matching ripped-denim-and-bangles look, while Azusa had topped her Death Devil shirt and frilled skirt combo with a black leather waistcoat that made her look like a tiny, adorable biker. Jun was wearing just this side of too much eye makeup and black lipstick to go with her black leather jeans, cat-ear hoodie, and elbow pads, evidently having conflated the rocker look with goth skater style in her head, and Ritsu had gone for a "black lederhosen/stripey tights" effect born of a similar mental style collision. Mugi had evidently completely lost the plot and selected a jumper dress in a cheerful shade of yellow, which went... oddly with her band shirt and 20-eyelet Doc Martens. It was all a bit of a muddle, enthusiastic but confused.

Nodoka, though... Nodoka had gone for a very specific look, and with her usual unruffled, methodical competence, had nailed it, teaming a more conservatively scaled pair of Docs with tights featuring a cheery cartoon-skulls-and-pink-crossbones motif, a pink leather microskirt that might actually have been an extremely ambitious belt, and a three-quarter-sleeved black leather racing jacket with the Future Industries F1 logo sprawling across the back and down both sleeves. She'd gone exactly as far as she needed to with the makeup, swapped her usual red half-frame glasses for a pair of heavy-black-framed industrial safety jobs, and done something to her dark brown hair that put auburn streaks in it and made it a bit spikey.

She looked like she had just arrived from some other planet, and yet she was the only one of them who completely looked at home.

"Mio," said Ritsu, grabbing her best friend's shoulder without looking. "Mio where is my camera."

"How am I supposed to know that?" Mio wondered. "Besides, you have a gearPhone."

"Oh right," Ritsu said, and she dug that item out and immortalized the moment as Nodoka reached them, smiling pleasantly.

"Good evening, all," she said. "Are Azalynn and the others already here?"

"They're downstairs checking in," Mugi reported. "I love your outfit, Nodoka-chan," she added with a beaming smile.

"You don't think it's a little too much?" Nodoka wondered.

"It's perfect!" Yui assured her. "C'mon, let's go!"

As they all filed downstairs, Yui hung back to stay even with Mio, who was bringing up the rear with a faintly stunned look on her face.

"I told you," she said with a little grin.

"Yes you did," Mio conceded, shaking her head in wonder.

In the lobby, Miss Kawakami recognized the members of Hōkago Tea Time and their friends, all of whom had come to the band's show at the club the previous December. She welcomed them cheerfully and complimented them on their shirts, then drew Yui aside and asked her,

"Was that the Art of Noise that just came in before you?"

"Uh-huh!" said Yui happily. "Well, all but Kate-chan-sensei. She had to go to the South Pole."

Kawakami regarded her thoughtfully for a second, then shook her head with a grin and said, "I knew you girls were going places. Enjoy the show!"


Death Devil was on third, after another, younger metal band of Hōkago Tea Time's acquaintance (Death Bang Bang Chicken, who had been on the bill at the show they played on New Year's Eve) and a punk group called The Girl Gang (prompting Ritsu to complain jokingly that someone stole her idea, since that was what she had wanted to call their band).

After their sets, there was a brief intermission while things got rearranged on the tiny stage. Yui and Azalynn worked their way through the crowd to the bar (which was only selling soft drinks tonight, since it was a 14-plus show) and got refreshments for everyone, then made their way back and distributed them.

It was eight-thirty or so in the evening, and the room was packed to its legal capacity. Apart from the girls of the Light Music Club, everyone here seemed to be in their mid-twenties, about Sawa-chan's own age; Mio supposed they were mostly classmates and other contemporaries of the members of Death Devil. She thought she recognized a few of them from the photos of the much larger Light Music Club of that day that were in the old album in the clubroom.

Next to her, Yui tugged at Ritsu's sleeve and whispered, "Ritchan, Ritchan! Look! It's Mr. Horigome!"

Ritsu turned to look, as did the others immediately around Yui. Sure enough, there at the back, looking utterly out of place in his cardigan and slacks, was Mr. Horigome, the literature teacher at Sato Academy, who had been the Light Music Club's much-harassed faculty advisor in Death Devil's student days. He seemed to notice them noticing him, turned his head, and nodded with a smile, then returned his attention to the stage.

They didn't have much time to reflect on the teacher's presence, though, because at that moment the stage lights came up, and there was Death Devil.

They looked much like they had in the photo from their senior year - a little older, obviously, but with the same timeless hard-rocker style, ramped back somewhat from their full-on junior-year masks-and-craziness phase to a more mature, balanced presentation. Up front, "Catherine" Yamanaka was the most flamboyantly dressed of the lot, in a red leather bustier and tight, oddly angled, heavily fringed skirt (much longer on the right side than the left), with a many-buckled leather bracer on her left wrist and chunky, aggressive-looking boots. Her long brown hair was messier than it had ever been in her teaching days, with a vivid red streak dyed in it on the left side of her untidy center part -

- And, the girls of Hōkago Tea Time realized with a common surge of delight, she was wearing both the carved obsidian amulet Azusa had given her on her last day at Sato Academy, nestled on its cord in the hollow of her throat... and the cat-ears headband that was Mio's sardonic contribution, perched defiantly on her head.

Azalynn, regarding the scene with a thoughtful eye, noticed that she was wearing her glasses, too, something she hadn't done in most of the old pics of the band. As she stepped to the front of the stage, they caught the overhead lights, glinting in a way that obscured her eyes: an effect Azalynn had seen Kate take advantage of as well, from time to time.

The first new thing the girls learned about their old faculty advisor was that she was not the kind of rocker who bothered with the Big Stage Raps. Or indeed any stage raps. Evidently operating on the assumption that her audience knew what band they came to see, Catherine didn't even introduce them - just made sure her white Flying V's pickup selector was on the center setting and slammed bodily into the first song's opening riff.

Death Devil
"Love"
Love (2010)

Standing near the front, crammed into the middle of her little crowd of friends and not minding at all, Azusa Nakano took it all in with a technician's ear, unable to divorce her conscious mind entirely from the experience. While her body was having plenty of fun, jumping up and down and pumping a fist in the air, the part of her mind that was forever analyzing her own band's performance did the same with Death Devil's.

They were a little ragged, which wasn't really a surprise given that, however hard they had worked over the past 20 days, they hadn't played together on anything like a regular basis for several years before that. Their energy was astonishing, though, and so was their cohesion - particularly the rock-solid, almost visible linkage between the two guitarists. She had heard that there was an intense rivalry between the two back in their Light Music Club days, each constantly driving the other to improve or fall behind. There had been a time, not so long ago, when she'd wished for something like that between herself and Yui-senpai; she was over that now, but hearing the result in Death Devil's performance, she felt a little echo of it.

She would never have believed, based on her rather lazy, hedonistic clubroom persona, that Ms. Yamanaka was such a formidable guitarist. As a vocalist, she was really only OK - she lacked both Mio-senpai's power and Yui-senpai's charm - but she had great presence as a performer, and it made up for both deficits ably. Her body language on stage was utterly different from the slack she'd displayed in the clubroom or the poised, polite elegance of her "teacher" façade, and for the first time, Azusa had the impression that she was seeing the real person.

Death Devil
"Hikari"
Hōkago Tea Time in Movie (2012)

During Death Devil's fourth song, a new arrangement of "Hikari", Azusa was jarred out of her reverie by an elbow in her ribs; turning, she saw Ritsu-senpai grin at her, then tilt her head to the right with a knowing "check it!" sort of look. Azusa looked, saw what she was getting at, and had to smile. Right up front, Mugi-senpai was the only person in the room (well, besides Mr. Horigome, probably, but Azusa couldn't see him from where she was) who was standing still.

She wasn't doing so because she wasn't enjoying the show; far from it. Rather, Mugi was transfixed, standing stock-still between Yui and Mio, gazing raptly at the stage with an expression of utter, awestruck delight - as if what was happening up on stage was the most interesting, amazing, and gratifying thing that had ever happened, anywhere, ever.

One by one, Ritsu brought it to the others' attention; most of them smiled, or giggled, or both, and all watched with interest to see what Yui made of it. When her turn came, she looked, got a thoughtful expression for a second...

... and then, with a beaming smile, slipped around behind Mugi and gave her what she needed to complete the experience, namely a great big hug. (Behind them, Jun glanced in astonishment at Ui, who just shrugged. Big sister's not so naïve after all, eh?)

Only at the end of that fourth song, after the cheering had died down a little, did Sawako step to the mic and speak. When she did, her voice was a little husky, but not the affected growl she often adopted when in her heavy-metal persona. This was a more genuine sort of rasp, born partly from the exertion of singing and partly from the emotion of the occasion.

"I hope you'll forgive me if I break character a little bit tonight," she said with a wry little smile. "Those of you who remember us from the old days know that Catherine's not supposed to give a damn if you like her or not." That got a laugh from the older fans in the audience as she continued, "But Sawako... can't let the moment go by without thanking you all for coming. Particularly this little group in the front here," she added, causing a row of blushes as various audience members, who also recognized the younger musicians, cheered for them as well.

"This next song's going to be our last for tonight," Sawako went on. At the disappointed sound that drew from most of the crowd, she raised a hand and said, "Sorry, but we're old now, and we get tired," getting another laugh. "This is a song we just wrote a couple of weeks ago, when we first got back together. It's not really finished yet, but we figured we'd try it out on you. If you don't like it..." She paused, her smile becoming a little sly, and then drew herself to her full height and gave them the old Catherine heavy-metal fuck-you glare, the effect accentuated by the glint of the stage lights blanking out her eyes. "That's your tough luck," she growled, and the room erupted in cheers and whistling.

Cyntia
"Run to the Future"
Endless World (2012)

Their fifth and final song was, as advertised, unfinished, and it showed in the lack of polish and the places where things didn't quite seem to fit together yet; but it rocked, straight up, and Azusa didn't reckon there was a single person in the room who cared about its technical shortcomings. Even she didn't - noticed them, sure, didn't care, though - and if she didn't, she sincerely doubted anybody else here would.

As she listened, though, it occurred to Azusa that it seemed like there was something missing; not just that the song was unpolished, but that it seemed incomplete somehow. As if the arrangement were lacking a part that it otherwise should've had, like when she and the others rehearsed (still a thrilling new sensation!) and one of them hadn't arrived yet.

She put it out of her mind and just enjoyed the moment - hearing another group of serious musicians, as she had only just started to perceive herself and her bandmates as being, at a developing stage of their craft. People who only listened to bands that had already made it missed out on this stuff, and she supposed most of them didn't really know or care what they were missing, but to her, this was as enjoyable in its own way as hearing a group like the Art of Noise at the top of their game.

Death Devil finished the experimental number with a flourish, and then, as they had arrived, so they left - amid cheers and applause, without another word.


The Light Music Club and the Art of Noise hurried backstage, as much as anyone could hurry in such a packed house. By the time they arrived, Death Devil had finished shedding their makeup and costumes, albeit for street clothes that were not so terribly different - just a little more restrained. Once there, the members of the Art of Noise offered their congratulations on a triumphant comeback, then excused themselves and faded away, leaving the moment to the Light Music Club, past and present.

The current members pitched in to help their alumnae square away their equipment, a paramount responsibility of all musicians in the wake of a performance. Once that was taken care of - everything locked securely in Norimi Kawaguchi's van, which was parked out around back of the club - they all adjourned to the food stand down by the river, a Light Music Club haunt since time immemorial (or at least the 270s, which to Yui, at least, was the same thing).

There, over fried things and fruit juices, the band members brought their young successors cheerfully up to date on all the crazy things that had happened to them since they got caught up in the whirlwind that was their band being revived and promoted by one of the world's most powerful companies.

"And the amazing thing is," Norimi declared, "they're not actually pushing us to change our sound, or write new lyrics that are more about the car, or anything. They're totally giving us our heads!"

"We've changed our sound a little bit anyway," Della remarked with a wry grin, "but that's just because we're all grown-ups now and we don't feel like we have as much to prove."

"Except maybe Sawako," added Jane, laughing and elbowing her bandmate, who waved her off with a smile.

"I did notice that you seemed... calmer somehow, on stage," Mio put in thoughtfully. "More... settled. If that makes any sense."

"Mm-hmm, I know what you mean," Mugi agreed, nodding.

"I noticed it too," Nodoka concurred.

"Well... maybe I am, a bit," said Sawako thoughtfully. "This whole experience has been like a kind of dream. Maybe I'm afraid if I push it too hard I'll wake up. Or maybe it's like Della says and I've grown up a little."

"Kate-chan-sensei will be really pleased," Yui put in. "I wish she could've been there."

"So do I, but there'll be other shows," Sawako said. "And..." She hesitated, reddening a little, then went on, "It really meant a lot to me that you girls came to see us tonight. And wearing those shirts! I almost teared up right there on stage. That would've been terrible for my image," she added with an air of mock reproach, making them all laugh. "But seriously... thank you."

"Yeah, thanks a lot," Norimi agreed. "It's good to know the Light Music Club is still rockin' - and still looking to the future," she added with a wink for the "provisional members". "Hey, maybe when we're on tour you guys can come open for us sometimes."

"I'm... not sure our audiences would overlap that much," Ritsu temporized.

"Hey, rock is rock," said Della. "You might be surprised."

Norimi nodded. "Look at it like we do. We spent a year trying to appeal to a particular group of people, and then we realized - it's not worth worrying about exactly who will 'get' your music. You gotta play what you play and tell yourself, 'The right people will get this.'"

"Ooh, I like that," said Yui. "Azu-nyan, write that down!"

"I think I'll be able to remember it," Azusa assured her dryly. Then, stifling a yawn, she said, "I hate to say it, but I have to be getting home. Friday night or not, it's getting late, and my parents will be worried enough without me wandering around at all hours."

"I heard that," said Jun.

"We should get home too, Big Sis," Ui prompted her sister.

"Yeah, we should probably call it a night ourselves," Norimi agreed. "We're supposed to be back in Future City tomorrow for a photo shoot with the car. They say we're actually gonna meet the woman in charge."

"Wow, you mean - Minami Sato?" said Ritsu. At Norimi's nod, she added, "Tell her they need to make a better headlight kit for the 500 series. It's a great bike, but that stock headlight is pretty weak."

"Ritsu!" Mio said, faintly scandalized.

"What? It is! You'll see," Ritsu said.

Sawako laughed, and, to everyone's faint surprise, reached and ruffled Ritsu's hair, dislodging her yellow headband in the process. "I'll see what I can do, Ritchan," she promised. As everyone rose from the counter, she said once more, "Thank you again for coming. It made a special evening even more so to see all your smiling faces out there."

"We'll send you tickets to our first real show when we know when and where," Norimi promised. "Supposed to be in Republic City sometime this summer, hopefully while you guys are on vacation. Be careful heading home!"

"You too," said Mugi with a polite bow. Then, turning to Sawako, she asked, "Will you be back from Future City on Sunday?"

"I'm not sure," Sawako replied. "I'll call you tomorrow night and let you know. If not, maybe we can meet up sometime during the week."

"All right," Mugi agreed. "Have fun in Future City!"

They all went their separate ways from the food stall, with Death Devil making for the nearest member's apartment (as they all still technically lived in Sakuragaoka), the Hirasawas and Azusa heading straight home, Nodoka and Jun catching a bus, and Mugi taking the train. Mio and Ritsu walked back to the club, where Ritsu's yellow scooter awaited them.

"Did you notice how casual Mugi was with Sawa-chan?" Ritsu asked as she unchained her scooter.

"Mm," said Mio noncommittally.

"'Mm'?" Ritsu replied, glancing back over her shoulder with a sardonic look. "C'mon, I'm not saying anything about it. I just... noticed it. Would've been hard not to, especially after the way she looked while they were playing."

"I just don't think we should jump to any conclusions," Mio said. "Besides, it's really none of our business. Miss Yamanaka isn't a teacher at our school any more, so..."

"Right, right, and Mugi's 16 - heck, she'll be 17 in a week - so there's nothin' illegal about it or anything. That's not what I'm saying anyway." She bundled the chain and lock into the storage compartment under her seat, took out another object, and set about strapping said object to her helmet while Mio donned the spare one. "I just think it's..." She shrugged, reddening slightly. "Kinda nice. Whatever is going on," she qualified before Mio could remark. "That's all."

"Mm," Mio repeated. Then, looking inquisitive, she said, "What is that?"

"This?" Ritsu replied, indicating the device she was affixing to her helmet. "Well, I said my headlight was a little weak. This," she went on, switching on the device and revealing it to be a miner's lamp, "is insurance."

"Aagh!" said Mio, throwing up her hands. "Dammit, don't look at me with that thing on, I'm blind!"

"Sorry," Ritsu replied, turning and swinging herself into the saddle. "C'mon, let's get you home. It's getting late, we don't want Mommy and Daddy to worry about their little girl."

Mio growled, then stopped herself with an "Ah!" and said wryly, "You're just trying to make me forget you have a helmet on and try to bonk you on the head."

"Almost worked, didn't it," Ritsu said cheerfully as her friend climbed on behind her. "Let's see if you remember your lessons from this afternoon."

She did, in fact, remember her lessons. Maybe it was just the lateness of the hour, or the lingering satisfaction of the great night out they'd all just had, but Mio not only relaxed on the ride home, she was actually leaning into it by the time they arrived in front of her house. The thought, and the sensation, made Ritsu smile as they rounded the last corner and coasted up to the curb in front of the Akiyama house.

"So?" she asked as Mio climbed off and unfastened her borrowed helmet. "What do you think? Not so bad once you get used to it, right?"

"Not so bad," Mio admitted with a wry smile. "Good night, Ritsu."

"G'night," Ritsu said, and she was just about to fire up her scooter and head for home when a chiming noise caught both their attentions.

"Uh?" Mio wondered, digging in her pocket for her cellphone. "Who's sending me mail at this hour?"

Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
presented

Undocumented Features Future Imperfect
The Order of the Rose: A Duelist Opera

The Federation Lives Forever!
Chapter Eight: "Comeback of the Year"

Written by
Benjamin D. Hutchins
with Matt Wagner

With
The EPU Team

Based on K-On! created by
Kakifly

E P U (colour) 2014